Spared on by our recent achievement at Tsukuba-san, we gathered our wits together and decided that in Golden Week, we would climb another mountain. After all we need all the practise we can get before facing Mount Fuji!
Our choice was Nantai-san, which at 2,486m high is bigger than anything that can be found in the UK. Nantai-san can be found in the Nikko National Park, about 90 minutes by train from Sugito. According to our untrustworthy hiking guidebook, Nantai-san is classified as an ‘easy-medium’ climb. Now I’m not entirely sure how they come to these ratings but I’m starting to think that it’s only an easy climb when compared to climbing Mount Everest, with no shoes, one arm tied behind your back and blind folded!
For once our guidebook gave us accurate instructions on how to get to the foot of the mountain, the start of the climb is actually through the Futarasan Chugushi Shrine, visiting the shrine itself is free, though they do levy a 500 yen fee (per person) for the pleasure of climbing the mountain.
We spoke to a young girl at the Shrine shop, and explained that we wanted to climb the mountain. We received a firm ‘honto?’ - which means ‘really?’ You could almost see the unspoken sentences forming in her mind ‘but… but… your foreigners!’ she promptly tried to discourage us by explaining that the climb was difficult, and would take over 6 hours.
Eventually, she must have realised that we were going for it anyway, so after making sure we had water with us, she relieved us 1000 yen and started talking us through the safety precautions (in Japanese) and explaining where all the safety huts are on the climb. We were also told that 13 other people were currently climbing the mountain whilst she gave us a pair of tags and a basic map.
In hindsight, the girl was probably more shocked that we weren’t kitted out with full SAS-style survival gear, rather than a single day-pack, T-Shirts and sunglasses! ...and, we didn't have a single pack horse between us!
The start of the hike was actually a locked gate, so we had to go through a small wooded area to get to the main path and began a very steep climb that just got steeper and steeper. At quite a few points on the climb, I thought I was going to have to use my arms and actually climb the mountain, rather than hike up it.
(Carl here... after doing a little research on the internet after the climb, this gate isn't opened until May 5th, when they 'officially' open the mountain!)
The mountain varied considerably in nature, what started as open woodland...
led to a winding road...
then very thick woods where we almost lost the track a few times...
followed by very loose boulders...
more woods then lots and lots of deep snow,
then finally lots of red volcanic rocks and yes, more snow!
It was a very hot day, maybe 30 degrees, with the sun beating overhead when we started the ascent, so we were very surprised when we first saw a thin layer of ice. I started the climb in a vest top because it was so hot!
As we climbed further up the mountain, we met a few of the Japanese climbers and one guy told us that there was snow ahead, a little while later we saw to our disbelief a thin sprinkling of snow on the ground.
And then we turned the corner and saw this.....
…needless to say that we were more than a little shocked. The route was completely covered in snow and we had no choice but to walk through it. As we ventured further, I was suddenly missing a leg. The blanket of snow was actually over 2m deep in places and I’d managed to fall through with one of my legs. I had to ‘save’ myself because Carl was too busy laughing and taking this photo….
…though a few short moments later I was laughing because Carl became victim to a hole in the snow.
Naturally I just had to take a photo of his misfortune!
This part of the climb turned out to be great fun, we were constantly laughing (…at each other!) but the going was slow, but steady. It amused me to see us overtaking many of the seasoned Japanese mountain climbers, all in full climbing gear, most of whom were taking a break before they tackled the rest of the snow covered trail.
We finally reached the summit after about 5 hours climbing, which is quite a quick ascent (according to our guide book), though we could have made it a lot quicker without the snow!
At the top was the usual shrine plus a semi-abandoned building. The exact peak was a large rock formation with a huge ‘sword’ sticking out of it.
The view was spectacular, the clear air and as much snow as you could wish to play with! We also had a great view of the surrounding mountains and Chuzen-ji ko (Lake Chuzen).
I felt that the descent had a greater element of danger to it. The loose rocks and boulders that were tricky to climb up made the descent more than a little interesting. Also, the pace that Carl sets when hiking, make even the easiest of climbs into an endurance event!
The photos speak for themselves; it was a great pleasure to climb the beautiful mountain, especially since it took us away from the crowds that always flock to Nikko, seeing something completely off the beaten track. We also had the most fun that we’d had in a long time (especially through the snow!).
The climb wasn’t easy though, and the different types of terrain made some parts very challenging. If you know what you’re doing, and you’re reasonably fit, then the mountain shouldn’t cause you any problems.